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Joe Deely's picture
Partner Deely Group

Involved with high-tech for last 30 years. Interested in energy.

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  • Dec 16, 2020
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Massive new study by Princeton on what it will take to get to Net Zero by 2050. Highly recommended.

Bonus: one of the primary authors of this study is Jesse Jenkins - an early contributor to this site.

Some highlights:

The new research, which involved ten Princeton researchers and eight external collaborators, lays out five pathways by which the United States could decarbonize the entire economy in the next 30 years.

The scenarios that the new research details include a “high electrification” or E+ scenario, which involves aggressively electrifying buildings and transportation, so that 100% of cars are electric by 2050. The “less high electrification” or E- scenario, electrifies at a slower rate and uses more liquid and gaseous fuels for longer. Another scenario, noted as E- B+, allows much more biomass to be used in the energy system, which, unlike the other four scenarios, would require converting some land currently used for food agriculture to grow energy crops. The E+ RE+ pathway is an “all-renewables” scenario and also is the most technologically restrictive. It assumes no new nuclear plants would be built, disallows below-ground storage of carbon dioxide, and eliminates all fossil fuel use by 2050. It relies instead on massive and rapid deployment of wind and solar and greater production of hydrogen to meet carbon goals. The E+ RE- scenario, by comparison, relies on “limited renewables,” constraining the annual construction of wind turbines and solar power plants to be no faster than the fastest rates achieved by the country in the past, but removes other restrictions. This scenario depends more heavily on the expansion of power plants with carbon capture and nuclear power.

Wind and solar power, along with the electrification of buildings and cars, must grow rapidly this decade for the nation to be on a net-zero trajectory. The researchers said the 2020s must also be used to continue to develop technologies, such as those that capture carbon at natural gas or cement plants or those that split water to produce hydrogen, so that they are affordable to deploy at scale in the 2030s.  But for the next several years, the researchers said most of the big investment revolves around clean electricity and electrification and is similar across all of the scenarios. 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 16, 2020

The researchers said the 2020s must also be used to continue to develop technologies, such as those that capture carbon at natural gas or cement plants or those that split water to produce hydrogen, so that they are affordable to deploy at scale in the 2030s

The success of this seems to be the biggest question mark of the coming decade-- definitely need some more support for those techs to make sure we're staying on track

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 16, 2020

Great - another Massive, New, Highly-Recommended, Net-Zero Study from renewables evangelists.

What does "Net Zero" mean, Joe? Is that the same as "Not Zero", but with a hip, millennial twist? If so, great news: we've already reached Net Zero!

🙄

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Dec 17, 2020

Great - another Massive, New, Highly-Recommended, Net-Zero Study from renewables evangelists

Gotcha Bob...

Back in 2015, when Jessie wrote  "A Look at Wind and Solar, Part 2: Is There An Upper Limit To Variable Renewables? published in the Energy Collective you were full of praise.

"Jesse and Alex, this is brilliant"

Earlier this year - you again used Jessie in one of your comments.

"If history is any guide, the answer is no. As Alex Trembath and Jessie Jenkins predicted five years ago, the marginal value of variable renewable energy to the grid declines as the penetration rises."

At the time I replied:

"As for the old Jessie Jenkins article.  He and team at Princeton are working on some new modeling - let's see what they come up with. I bet he wishes he could take back these comments about maximum production - especially as it relates to Ireland."

In fact, you have used Jesse's work multiple times to support your arguments. But now that he has come up with a study supporting huge rollout of renewable in the 2020s he suddenly becomes a "renewables evangelist" and is no longer worth your time.

Does that mean you are gonna stop quoting Jesse? 

This sort of reminds me of that "orange-haired fella" who was a big supporter of the governor of Georgia until the governor wouldn't lie or cheat for him.  He went from being a supporter to saying he should go to jail.  

 

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 17, 2020

Predictably, by insinuating I must accept blindly the opinion of anyone who ever had an important (and correct) point to make, you sidestepped my question.

Allow me re-phrase: "Why would anyone consider a commitment to a 'net-zero' goal anything more than a license to continue business-as-usual - when we can least afford one?"

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Dec 17, 2020

 "I must accept blindly the opinion of anyone who ever had an important (and correct) point to make", 

Big difference between "accept blindly the opinion" and name-calling.  By the way, you do the same with Christopher Clack @Vibrant Clean Energy.  

"Continue business-as-usual" 

obviously you did not even read the study.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 17, 2020

Given Net-Zero America is the title of the study you cite, what the term "net-zero" actually means would be of critical importance to determining whether it's a goal worthy of study - or more hype promoting "renewable" energy.

Yet you continue to evade discussion of its meaning. Why?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Dec 18, 2020

Again.. why don't you actually read the study? The definition given by the authors is on Pg 6. so obviously you haven't read very far.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 18, 2020

This Net Zero America study aims to inform and ground political, business, and societal conversations regarding what it would take for the U.S. to achieve an economy-wide target of net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. Achieving this goal, i.e. building an economy that emits no more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than are permanently removed and stored each year, is essential to halt the buildup of climate-warming gases in the atmosphere and avert costly damages from climate change

From the report

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 18, 2020

Why would I waste my time reading a climate change study funded by Exxon-Mobil and British Petroleum?

"Students at the University regularly express wishes for urgent climate action and divestment. Previous divestment campaigns have garnered thousands of signatures and a recent petition initiated by University alumni has garnered 800 signatures as of this submission, with signatories vowing not to donate to the University until it divests from fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel companies now seek to rebrand, touting altruistic investments in renewable technologies and generous funding to universities such as BP’s $43 million and ExxonMobil’s $6.7 million donated to the University's [Princeton's] climate change research. Despite the shift in branding, investments in sustainable enterprises are dismal with only 1 percent of their budget spent on non-oil and gas projects. Meanwhile, the industry’s efforts to integrate themselves into University research helps to change the narrative and deflect blame from their own culpability. In fact, while the companies like BP claim to be interested in supporting research into climate solutions, they continue to politically thwart adoption of these same solutions."

You'd think Exxon and BP would be a little less obvious...took me all of 4 minutes!

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 17, 2020

Hmm, yet another big energy study finds that a future energy system that relies only on renewables is the most expensive kind!

This is a very detailed study, and used hourly dispatch data to determine the quantity of generation, transmission, and even MWatts of 6 hour batteries needed.

It is interesting to note that in the lower cost scenarios, not only do we keep nuclear power and gas w/CC&S, but we also keep oil! The reference scenario (not low carbon) even keeps coal.  So they don't believe that renewables are becoming so cheap that displace all other energy sources.

Cost graph

scenario description Note that the authors of the report include decarbonization pioneers Pacala & Socolow, and Energy Collective contributor Jess Jenkins.

 

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Dec 17, 2020

Hmm, yet another big energy study finds that a future energy system that relies only on renewables is the most expensive kind!

Interesting takeaway... looks to me like all five scenarios cost the same for 2020s.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 17, 2020

Good observation. It must seem counter-intuitive that as cheap as renewables are becoming, they still don't make the cheapest over-all system.  There are a couple of reasons for that.

  1. We are starting with the low-hanging fruit.  Our current wind and solar deployments are heavily weighted towards the windy central plains and the desert southwest, respectively.  For the whole system, we'll need to buy a lot of transmission and/or deploy to less cost effective locations.
  2. The capacity factor effect.  When we try to use a variable renewable at a penetration greater than its capacity factor, the integration costs increase dramatically: more transmission, storage, curtailment, selling at deeply discounted cost to H2 producers, and running backup power plants at less cost effective low throttle settings.

The other thing to remember is that the cost graph shows the average cost.  But purchasing and policy decisions are made annually, based on incremental costs.  The incremental costs for all-renewables will increase much faster than the average.  So focusing exclusively on renewables today (to the exclusion of nuclear) means we will tend to be locked-in to fossil fuel in 20 years.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 19, 2020

I did notice a few shortcomings in the Princeton report.

A major unanswered question is what happens if the public does not accept CC&S?  Of course the 100% renewable scenario (the high-price leader) is one answer, but a nuclear-rich mix would likely be more cost effective.  Filling the nation with CO2 pipelines and CO2 repositories creates very real risks of accidents with massive casualties, whereas nuclear waste only creates such accident risks in the imagination.

There are other issues that would tend to be favorable to nuclear that were also left out of the study.  Heat or steam from nuclear plants can substantially reduce energy costs for electrolysis and industrial heat users.  Heat from certain gen IV reactors coupled to thermal energy storage may beat batteries for grid storage; they exclude this from their technology list.  Nuclear has a much lower environmental and visible footprint than renewables; in the UK, on-shore windpower development has all but halted due to public resistance.

Another big omission is electricity market reform.  The current wholesale market design relies on fuel cost as a price signal to drive electricity price.  The renewable-rich grids are missing that price signal much of the time.  For some of the scenario, there may be enough dispatchable industrial loads that they can bid into the system to set the market price.

In some states, there could be a problem with political interference that directs incentives in inefficient directions, and uses up the available money before the transition has been made.  Of course I'm thinking of overly generous incentive/billing packages for rooftop solar (the most expensive kind, at over double the cost of utility solar).

The pessimistic spin for nuclear may seem unimportant.  But to maintain political support in the US for decarbonization will require at least some movement from developing countries as well, and they will be even more sensitive to cost than we are, as well as not having an adequate regulatory strength to honestly implement CC&S.  As number from China show, nuclear can be cheaper than renewables in a country with the right environment.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Dec 19, 2020

I did notice a few shortcomings in the Princeton report

Agree.. I have a few things I'd like to change as well. Hopefully, this is just Version 1.0 and they will update with new versions over the next decade.

As number from China show, nuclear can be cheaper than renewables in a country with the right environment.

Do you have numbers and/or a link for this?

I also wonder  - If costs are good - why is China doing so little with nuclear?

Looking at PRIS data you can see that because of jump in construction starting around 2010, the four years (2015-2018) were pretty good as 23 new reactors were brought online - almost 6/year.  

Since then, we have 2 in 2019, 2 so far in 2020, and 10 under construction. Assuming the projects under construction get completed in the next five years - this means that average for China, now and going forward till 2025 is 2 new reactors/year. In other words, average per year has dropped from 6 to 2.

If nuclear is cheap - why the slowdown? Plus, you are saying that is "in a country with the right environment".

Let's look at the China's generation numbers over the last five years - (2015-2019) As I said above, these were good years for new nuclear capacity in China. Because of that, nuclear generation doubled over the last five years. However, as you can see below, both Solar and Wind still had more additional generation vs nuclear.   Solar grew by 5x.

Going forward we have new nuclear capacity being added at a much slower pace. Including the two units added in 2020 - nuclear capacity in China will grow from 45.3GW in 2019 to 58.3GW in 2025 - just over 28%.  Generation should grow the same.

What about Solar is China - how is that doing?

China solar capacity growth hits 40 GW in 2020 

China has brought about 40 gigawatts (GW) of new solar power into operation in 2020, taking its total installed solar capacity to 240 GW

Meaning total solar capacity grew by 20% in 2020.

China’s total solar capacity had increased more than fivefold since 2015 and could double in the next five years

A rapid decline in costs has also allowed projects to operate without subsidies.

Wang told an industry conference that China’s solar capacity growth was expected to reach an average of 70 GW a year during the 2021-2025 “five-year plan”, and could even be as high as 90 GW

So we have nuclear growing by 26% vs solar growing by 100%. Interesting, since that would imply that total solar generation in China for the year 2025 will be higher for solar vs nuclear.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 19, 2020

China has definitely had a slowdown in nuclear new builds. I think this is due to their switchover from domestic Gen II to imported Gen III then domestic Gen III designs. (The reactor accidents at Three Mile Island and Fukushima occurred in Gen II designs, so the delay will help maintain public support).

Just last months, their first domestically designed Gen III reactor, a Hualong One (aka HR1000), came on-line at the Fuqing plant (source).  They have seven more under construction in China (split between two suppliers, CGN and CNNC), and two in Pakistan.  They also have a larger new reactor, the CAP1400, which is descended from the Westinghouse AP1000, under construction at a two reactor new build at the Shidaowan plant.

The claim that nuclear is still cheaper than renewables in China came from this Chinese industry source from this September.  Of course with their slow current build rate, even they don't have an exact price that would be applicable at a build rate that was meaningful for their 2000 GW grid.

My comment about the environment in China being more open to nuclear really had to do with the extreme brain-washing here by fossil fuel interests that has many members of the public (including some environmentalist) believing (very wrongly) that nuclear is somehow more dangerous than fossil fuel. 

I also expect that their accounting could be more transparent, so that if renewables cause their existing coal producers to operate a lower capacity factor, which is less cost effective, that could impact renewable build rates.

In past years, China has lagged the US in windpower as a percentage of total generation.  Perhaps they'll exceed our (tiny) solar generation rates.  But I don't think they will stop building coal-fired power plants until they are ready to ramp up nuclear construction rates (or substantially increase fossil gas production, because at least in a transitioning grid, renewables are not cost effective without gas to balance them).

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 24, 2020

"The reactor accidents at Three Mile Island and Fukushima occurred in Gen II designs, so the delay will help maintain public support."

Nathan, lumping Fukushima and Three Mile Island together as "Gen II" designs only emphasizes the importance of implementation, and de-emphasizes the importance of reactor technology. Both were Loss Of Coolant Accidents (LOCAs) - meltdowns - caused by exactly the same fundamental malfunction.

One resulted in widespread release of radiation, the other, virtually none.

One reactor was housed in a corrugated steel box; the other, in a containment structure and dome of reinforced concrete 6 ft. thick.

One was in a seaside location 30 ft. above the Pacific, in an area prone to the most powerful earthquakes on Earth; the other, far from the ocean and any sizeable subduction faults.

One was the chance result of the largest local earthquake in 1,600 years; the other, the result of entirely predictable human error.

One happened in Japan, the other, in the U.S., with the most advanced and restrictive nuclear safety culture in the world.

"My comment about the environment in China being more open to nuclear really had to do with the extreme brain-washing here by fossil fuel interests that has many members of the public (including some environmentalists) believing (very wrongly) that nuclear is somehow more dangerous than fossil fuel."

Aided, I'll add, by the extreme brainwashing by solar and wind entrepreneurs who view irrational public fear as a profit opportunity worthy of exploitation - at the expense of the environment.

Ultimately, greed is even more dangerous than housing a nuclear reactor in a corrugated steel box.

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